The influence of virtual reality

How VR may reshape the brand landscape

When talking about virtual reality, these past few years have been of some skepticism. After the first VR devices were launched, many thought these would soon become a fad. However, we have been proven wrong, as this technology is becoming more accessible and heavily invested in by big companies like Samsung, Sony, HTC, and even Facebook and Google. Thus, it is anticipated that in a few years’ time, these augmented reality devices will be as prevalent in society as smartphones are today.

If so, this would represent a huge paradigm shift forcing society to rethink multiple things, as we have done before with the birth of the printing press, the arrival of the Internet or the proliferation of smartphones.

It takes little imagination to understand the infinite possibilities of this promising technology. Can you imagine being able to walk around your future home before it has even been built? This simple example helps us anticipate the qualitative leap from simply interacting through and between screens to an absolute immersion in virtual reality - where our perceptions are much more real and the experiences much deeper and exciting.

At Saffron, we ask ourselves how this paradigm shift will affect brand building strategies - both for companies and brand consultancies. We know that virtual reality already allows us to create experiences, tell stories, launch products and generate services in a solid and convincing way. Therefore, we are obliged to embrace virtual reality and take full advantage of it.

Empathy’s ultimate tool
During my first studies on the subject, I was struck to find out that the NGO sector was one of the first to use this resource. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees), for example, developed a website in which, thanks to virtual reality, the user was able to travel to a Syrian refugee camp and, in a surprisingly realistic way, be exposed to a day in the life of a refugee. Moreover, this VR experience allowed the user to stand in front of one of the refugees and listen to his story firsthand. Picture the situation: when looking down, one would see that both user and refugee are standing on the same ground; when looking around, one would see that both user and refugee are in the same room listening to the same ambient sounds, same voices, same wind and crying. Chris Milk, an expert in VR technology, summed it up well in a TED Talk conference: "virtual reality is the ultimate tool for empathy."

No doubt then that virtual reality is an extremely powerful medium for storytelling and emotional connectivity. And what is branding if not the crafting of stories for our audiences to emotionally connect with?

Using virtual reality to enable brand strategies
Imagine we launch an airline whose strength is an exquisite customer service and first class luxury. Perhaps we could launch the brand by taking the audience through a virtual trip where they would experience – firsthand - the cabin’s innovative design and the crew’s impeccable service. The sense of immersion would be so unique, and the link between the viewer and our values would be highly effective.

Now let’s think about the launch of a new brand of glasses whose core strategic value is its artisanal character. Wouldn’t it be amazing to transport our audience to the brand’s workshops so that they could be in direct contact with the craft? What about launching a hotel whose extraordinary decoration was one of its main differentiators? Can you imagine being able to visit and explore the rooms?

In short, we have in our power the ability to create powerful experiences that will allow us to settle or strengthen brand values in the minds of consumers like never before.

And how does this affect us, brand consultancies?

Brand consultancies should incorporate this new reality into their way of thinking, especially as we begin to find brands that live - and will live - mainly in the virtual world. In these cases, VR proving decisive in defining the brands’ DNA.

Moreover, we must begin to consider new needs when designing visual identities. We may have to start thinking about three-dimensional logos, or begin designing retail spaces that will never physically exist. Design has always had to adapt to technological changes. With the arrival and use of multiple platforms, digital design has had to become responsive. With the flourishing of social media, for example, logo designs have become simpler and squarer to better work as an avatar or app icon.

As they say, the only constant is change. It’s up to us to understand the potential of change, to appreciate it and use it, even if it is through virtual reality glasses.

* This article first appeared on IPMark